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THE SONG OF THE MURDERED JEWISH PEOPLE
by Itzhak Katzenelson; translated by Noah H. Rosenbloom

SELECTIONS

THE FIRST ONES

  1. And it continued. Ten a day, ten thousand Jews a day.
    That did not last very long. Soon they took fifteen thousand.
    Warsaw' The City of Jews - the fenced-in, walled-in city,
    Dwindled, expired, melted like snow before my eyes.
  2. Warsaw, packed with Jews like a synagogue on Yom Kippur*, like a busy market place
    Jews trading and worshiping, both happy and sad
    Seeking their bread, praying to their God.
    They crowded the walled-in, locked-in city.
  3. You are deserted now, Warsaw, like a gloomy wasteland.
    You are a cemetery now, more desolate than a graveyard.
    Your streets are empty-not even a corpse can be found there.
    Your houses are open, yet no one enters, no one leaves.
  4. The first to perish were the children, abandoned orphans,
    The world's best, the bleak earth's brightest.
    These children from the orphanages might have been our comfort.
    From these sad, mute, bleak faces our new dawn might have risen.
  5. At the end of the winter of forty-two I was in such a place.
    I saw children just brought in from the street. I hid in a corner
    And saw a two-year-old girl in the lap of a teacher
    Thin, deathly pale and with such grave eyes.
  6. I watched the two-year-old grandmother,
    The tiny Jewish girl, a hundred years old in her seriousness and grief.
    What her grandmother could not dream she had seen in reality.
    I wept and said to myself: Don't cry, grief disappears, seriousness remains.
  7. Seriousness remains, seeps into the world, into life and affects it deeply.
    Jewish seriousness sobers, awakens and opens blind eyes.
    It is like a Torah*, a prophecy, a holy writ for the world.
    Don't cry, don't ... Eighty million criminals for one Jewish child's seriousness.
  8. Don't cry I saw a five-year-old girl in that "home".
    She fed her younger, crying brother...
    She dipped hard bread crumbs in watery marmalade
    And got them cleverly into his mouth ... I was lucky
  9. To see it, to see the five-year-old mother feeding him,
    And to hear her words. My mother, exceptional though she was, was not that imaginative.
    She wiped his tear with her laughter and talked him into joy.
    0 little Jewish girl, Sholem Aleichem could not have done any better. I saw it.
  10. I saw the misery in that children's home.
    I entered another room-there, too, it was fearfully cold.
    From afar a tin stove cast a glow on a group of children.
    Half-naked children gathered around the glowing coal.
  11. The coal glowed. One stretched out a little foot, another a frozen hand,
    A naked back. A pale young boy with dark eyes
    Told a story. No, not a story! He was stirred and excited
    Isaiah! you were not as fervent, not as eloquent a Jew.
  12. He spoke a mixture of Yiddish and the holy tongue. No, it was all the holy tongue.
    Listen! Listen! See his Jewish eyes, his forehead.
    How he raises his head ... Isaiah! you were not as small, not as great,
    Not as good, not as true, not as faithful as he.
  13. And not only the little boy who spoke in that children's home,
    But his little sisters and brothers who listened to him with open mouths
    0 no, you countries, you old and rebuilt European cities,
    The world never saw such children before; they never existed on earth.
  14. They, the Jewish children, were the first to perish, all of them,
    Almost all without father or mother, eaten by cold , hunger and vermin,
    Saintly messiahs, sanctified by pain ... 0 why such punishment?
    Why were they first to pay so high a price to evil in the days of slaughter?
  15. They were the first taken to die, the first in the wagon.
    They were flung into the big wagons like heaps of dung
    And were carried off, killed, exterminated,
    Not a trace remained of my precious ones! Woe unto me, woe.

IT'S ALL OVER

  1. The end. At night, the sky is aflame. By day the smoke coils and at night it blazes out again. Awe! Like our beginning in the desert: A pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. Then my people marched with joy and faith to new life, and now-the end, all finished All of us on earth have been killed, young and old. We have all been exterminated.
  2. Why? 0 don't ask why! Everybody knows, all gentiles, good and bad, The worst helped the Germans, the best closed one eye, pretending to be asleep- No, no, nobody will demand a reckoning, probe, ask why. Our blood is free, it may be shed. We may be killed and murdered with impunity.
  3. Among the Poles they looked for freedom fighters, only for those suspected Of patriotism ... They murdered many Russians in villages and towns- "Partisans". Among us, they killed babies in their cribs, even the unborn. They led us all to Treblinka and before killing turned to us and said:
  4. "Get undressed here. Put your clothes in order, shoes in pairs, leave your belongings. You'll need your clothes, shoes and other personal effects. You'll soon be back! You just arrived? From Warsaw? Paris? Prague? Saloniki? Take a bath!" A thousand enter the hall ... A thousand wait naked until the first thousand are gassed.
  5. Thus they destroyed us, from Greece to Norway to the outskirts of Moscow about seven million, Discounting Jewish children in wombs. Only the pregnant mothers are counted. And if Jews remain in far-away America and in nearby Eretz Israel-demand these children too from the world. Demand. Demand the murdered unborn children. Demand those gassed in their mothers' wombs.
  6. Why? No human being in the world asks why, yet all things do: Why? Each vacant apartment in thousands of towns and cities asks: Why? Listen, listen: Apartments will not stay vacant and empty homes will not remain empty. Another people is moving in, another language and a different way of life.
  7. Rising over Lithuanian or Polish towns, the sun will never find A radiant old Jew at the window reciting Psalms, or going to the synagogue. On every road peasants will welcome the sun in wagons, going to market. So many gentiles-more than ever, yet the market is dead. It is crowded, yet seems empty.
  8. Never will a Jew grace the markets, and give them life. Never will a Jewish kapota* flutter in markets on sacks of potatoes, flour, porridge. Never will a Jewish hand lift to a hen, pet a calf. The drunken peasant Will whip his horse sadly, return with his full wagon to the village. There are no more Jews in the land.
  9. And Jewish children will never wake in the morning from bright dreams, Never go to heder*, never watch birds, never tease, never play in the sand. 0 little Jewish boys! 0 bright Jewish eyes! Little angels! From where? From here, yet not from here. 0 beautiful little girls. 0 you bright pure faces, smudged and disheveled.
  10. They are no more! Don't ask overseas about Kasrilevke, Yehupetz. Don't. Don't look for Menachem Mendels, Tevye the dairymen, Nogids, Motke thieves. Don't look They will, like the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea and Amos from the Bible, Cry to you from Bialik, speak to you from Sholem Aleichem and Sholem Asch's books.
  11. Never will the voice of Torah be heard from yeshivoth*, synagogues, and pale students, Purified by study and engrossed in the Talmud* ... No, no, it was not pallor but a glow, Already extinguished ... Rabbis, heads of yeshivoth, scholars, thin, weak prodigies, Masters of Talmud and Codes*, small Jews with great heads, high foreheads, bright eyes-all gone.
  12. Never will a Jewish mother cradle a baby. Jews will not die or be born. Never will plaintive songs of Jewish poets be sung. All's gone, gone. No Jewish theater where men will laugh or silently shed a tear. No Jewish musicians and painters, Barcinskis, to create and innovate in joy and sorrow.
  13. Jews will fight or sacrifice no longer for others. They will no longer heal, soothe someone's pain, forgetting their own. 0 you foolish gentile, the bullet you fired at the Jew hit you too. 0 who will help you build your lands? Who will give you so much of heart and soul?
  14. And my hot-headed Communists will no longer bicker and argue with my Bundists*, Neither will they wrangle with my liberty-loving, devoted and conscientious Halutzim* who offered themselves to the world, not forgetting their own woe. I watched the disputes and grieved ... If only you could continue to argue and stay alive!
  15. Woe is unto me, nobody is left There was a people and it is no more. There was a people and it is ... Gone ... What a tale. it began in the Bible and lasted till now ... A very sad tale. A tale that began with Amalek* and concluded with the far crueller Germans... 0 distant sky, wide earth, vast seas, Do not crush and don't destroy the wicked. Let them destroy themselves!

 

 

NOTES

AMALEK: ancient Biblical archenemy of Israel who made war on the weak and upon women and children; alludes to Exodus 17:8-16

BUNDISTS: the Jewish Socialist movement of late nineteenth and early twentieth Eastern Europe which favored the Yiddish language and folk traditions

CODES: Rabbinic Law representing the conclusions of the Talmud and later literature

HALUTZIM: young Zionist agricultural pioneers in the land of Israel before 1948

HEDER: religious elementary school for children

KAPOTA: long outer garb favored by East European religious Jews

TALMUD: the classic compendium of Jewish law; written in a dialectical fashion in Hebrew and Aramaic; edited 500 C.E.

TORAH: sacred scroll containing first five books of the Hebrew Bible

YESHIVOTH/YESHIVOT: traditional Rabbinic seminaries

YOM KIPPUR: Day of Atonement; annual day of prayer, fasting and introspection

Jews ar worship in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1940.
Source: SWC Archives #91-149

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